In the spirit of the Batman V Superman: The Dawn of Justice film premiere, which was held in London the night before, The Impossible Collection hosted a one-night-only exhibition of the world’s rarest comic books. To make matters more astounding, the entire collection is owned by one man: Ayman Hariri. We had the honour of attending the exhibition last night at the St Pancras Renaissance Hotel, London, and meeting Mr Hariri himself.
The hundreds of comic books, preserved in plastic holders with meticulous information tabs above them of who wrote the script, who illustrated and who made the cover, were light by fluorescent rods of light that criss-crossed through the space creating what I would image the laboratory of a comicbook geek to look like.
The Impossible Collection is a range of rare comic books including Detective Number 27 (the first appearance of Batman), Sensations Comics Number 1 (the first cover of Wonder Woman), Batman Number 1 (first Batman title comic) and Showcase Number 7 (featuring the Flash).
The crown jewel of the exhibition was up on a raised platform at the end of the room and showcased not one but two copies of the 1938 produced Action Comics Number 1: the first time Superman was introduced and, arguably, the start of the superhero genre. Considered to be the ‘world’s most expensive comicbook’ with only 50-100 copies still in existence, this comicbook was sold in an eBay auction in August 2014 for $3.2m (£2.3m) to an unknown user, who is now revealed to be Hariri. The second one was a copy previously owned by Hollywood star Nicholas Cage, an avid Superman fan. Cage’s copy was stolen in 2000 but was eventually recovered from a San Fernando Valley storage locker and returned to the actor, who decided to sell it at auction online for $2.16m in 2011.
Vincent Zurzolo, one of the nation’s leading comic book aficionados and co-owner of Metropolis Collectibles, shared some stories about copies of Action Comics Number 1 that are almost as fantastical as the comic itself. A man walked past a house in Minnesota a few years ago and had a strange urge to buy it, despite its dilapidated state. He went to the town hall and bought the property for $10,000 with plans to re-build it. He started stripping down the walls and found that the previous inhabitants had been using comicbooks to insulate the walls. Among them he found a beaten up copy of Actions Comics Number 1. After many years he decided to put it on auction and even in that condition it still sold for $175,000.
Vincent estimates that the two copies in front of us are now worth around $4million each.
But it’s not the price that fascinates Vincent, it’s the fact that these comics have been around for 75 year and survived, ‘despite being made of pulp paper, two metal staples and were sold for 10 cents.’ They have survived the test of time and are are still relevant- Superman is a pop culture icon. It’s especially poignant today as Vincent points out; ‘Superman is the ultimate immigrant story – a man sent to earth to help humans. The virtues of the superhero are the best we can be, what we should aspire to be; always doing the right thing and helping the underdog.’
Another man in attendance who is helping the Superhero legacy live in is Zack Snyder. Zack is a filmmaker who has created the likes of 300, Watchmen, Man Of Steel and is the man behind Batman v Superman (which promises to be a trilogy). Zack admitted to being a bit of a comics geek and we are thankful for it!
Ayman Hariri, ranked 258 amongst the world’s richest people by Forbes in 2006, is a Lebanese billionaire heir and one of the sons of assassinated Lebanese PM Rafik Hariri. When he’s not busy running Saudi Oger, one Saudi Arabia’s biggest construction companies, his passion lies in collecting incredibly rare and highly sought-after comic books. There was even an illustration made of his father depicted as Superman that he had exhibited for the the first time along-side all his other Superman original cover illustrations.
“I opened the first comic book I bought, I’ve only opened them a handful of times and always with gloves on, but when I did it was supple and made this sound… I can’t describe it. It has seen so much of the world for such a long time I expected it to be brittle and fragile but it … well it wobbled!”
Ayman is not what you would expect from someone who is so passionate about comics; he’s handsome, eloquent, expressive, joined by his large and beautiful family, based in Saudi and really into tech! He has recently launched a new social networking platform called Vero – latin for ‘truth’ – and hopes to change the way people share information and interests. He was showing me how it works on his two iPhone6s and I couldn’t help but laugh at how far from the Simpson’s-esque comic book guy stereotype he was and how happy that made me!
Never judge a book by it’s cover – because that book might be a comic book and it might just be worth $4million.
The Impossible Collection will be exhibited publicly in London later this year.
All images by Wickerwood‘s in-house photographer Nick Harvey